Brazil Airlifts Emergency Oxygen Into Pandemic-struck State, Vaccine Drive Lags

MANAUS/BRASILIA: Brazil’s Air Force delivered emergency oxygen supplies on Friday to the jungle state of Amazonas devastated by a resurgent pandemic and the government scrambled to organize a nationwide vaccine effort while President Jair Bolsonaro said he “should be at the beach.”

Doctors in the northern Brazilian state were using their own vehicles to transport patients, as locals sought to buy oxygen tanks on the black market, according to media reports. Desperate relatives, protesting outside hospitals in the state capital of Manaus, said patients had been taken off ventilators as oxygen ran out.

Health authorities there said oxygen supplies had run out at some hospitals and intensive care wards were so full that scores of patients were being airlifted to other states.

The Air Force flew cylinders with 9,300 kilograms of oxygen in from Sao Paulo state with another cargo expected on Friday. It said a flight carried nine patients from Manaus to Teresina in northeastern Brazil, and evacuations will continue with two planes taking patients to six cities.

Officials had planned to airlift 61 premature babies in incubators out of Manaus, but the relocation ultimately was not needed because emergency oxygen supplies were procured.

A government plan to start inoculating Brazilians against COVID-19 early next week was in disarray. Right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro said a plane standing by since Friday to pick up 2 million doses of an AstraZeneca vaccine from India’s Serum Institute would now depart in “two or three days.”

Brazil’s Health Ministry requested immediate delivery of 6 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac and imported by Sao Paulo state’s Butantan biomedical center, saying it needed them for its planned launch of immunizations next week.


Health regulator Anvisa was set to decide on authorizing emergency use of Sinovac’s Coronavac as well as the AstraZeneca vaccine on Sunday.

Bolsonaro, who has denied the gravity of COVID-19 and has stated he will not be vaccinated, said in a television interview there was little he could do about the pandemic as a second wave of the new coronavirus tore through the country.

“I should be at the beach right now,” he said on Band TV, adding that his health minister was doing an “exceptional job.”

Critics of the president said the grim situation in Manaus was just the latest example of his poor handling of the world’s second highest COVID-19 death toll after the United States.

Brazil is now dealing with a snowballing second wave and a new, potentially more contagious, coronavirus variant that originated in Amazonas and prompted Britain on Thursday to bar entry to Brazilians.

Bolsonaro, a former army captain who has opposed lockdowns to halt the pandemic’s spread, said the government had already done what it could in Manaus.


The hoped-for 2 million AstraZeneca doses from the Serum Institute now face delays while India decides whether to loosen export regulations as it begins its own inoculation drive this weekend, a source briefed on the matter said.

India will be able to decide on exports of coronavirus vaccines within the next few weeks, Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar told Reuters this week.

“The policy of course is we will start the rollout in India. We have our own challenges,” Jaishankar said.

The worldwide coronavirus death toll surpassed 2 million on Friday, according to a Reuters tally.

In Amazonas, emergency services were pushed to a breaking point and Governor Nelson Lima announced a 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. statewide curfew to fight the spread of coronavirus.

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